Monday, March 10, 2014

State Department Goes Wobbly on 'Jewish State'

A Palestinian Arab newspaper has reportedly quoted State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki as saying the United States does not necessarily expect Palestinian Arabs to accept that Israel has a right to exist in the Middle East as the state of the Jewish people.

Psaki was interviewed by the Arabic-language Al-Quds newspaper on Saturday.

According to multiple Israeli press reports, Psaki said, "The American position is clear, Israel is a Jewish state. However, we do not see a need that both sides recognize this position as part of the final agreement."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu maintains that the Palestinian refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the return of the Jewish people to Israel is at the core of the conflict. The rejectionism signals that that even if the more moderate Palestinian faction signed a peace accord with Israel they would see it as only a temporary expediency – while adhering to the position that Jews have no right to a nation state in the Middle East.   

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, who is based in the West Bank, is scheduled to arrive in Washington on March 17 for meetings with President Barack Obama and other administration officials.

His opposition to accepting the right of a Jewish state in the Middle East is the same as that of the Palestinian Hamas leadership which governs in Gaza.

Psaki also reportedly said that a "framework agreement" outlining the future direction of the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has not yet been finalized.

The current round of talks began in July 2013 under heavy Obama administration pressure on both sides. The administration pressured Israel to release hundreds of terrorists -- a factor that explains the uptick in security dangers including on Road 443.

The release of the Gilad Schalit prisoners has already caused major damage to security and deterrence.

At any rate, neither side wanted these talks. If nothing else they agreed that talking would be pointless. The Palestinian Arab "minimum" was well beyond anything Israel could accept. 

Indeed, forced talks that collapse in failure were likely to de-stabilize the Arab street and lead to dashed hopes and increased violence.

But the administration and the Europeans opted for the illusion of momentum.

The administration said that it hoped to wrap up a deal by April 2014. 

That now appears, shall we say, unlikely. 

As a fallback, the State Department wanted to have the two sides initial a "framework agreement" that, based on agreed parameters, would carry the talks past April.

But the two sides can't even agree on that -- certainly not for signature.

Now, according to an Israel Radio on Friday, the U.S. is trying to come up with wording for a "framework agreement" that is satisfactory to the sides though neither Arabs nor Israelis would have to formally endorse it.

By putting the talks between Israel and the PLO on the front burner rather than dealing with Iran, and by simply ignoring that with Hamas in control of Gaza, a deal with the PLO is anyway pointless -- the US has wasted its diplomatic capital.

On the Palestinian conflict with Israel, this administration has managed to get it all wrong.

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